Most legal firms tend to have one or two people whom others look to with amazement and respect as those who can “build relationships and win work”.
Typically called rainmakers, these individuals seem to have an innate gift to be able to develop and win work for themselves and the law firms they work in. Often, others look to them for help and advice, but in many cases it is not always that helpful. In my experience, I’ve heard phrases like “just do what I do” or “all you need to do is be proactive, go out and meet people and the work will come”.
This lack of useful or practical advice isn’t necessarily due to the rainmaker not caring, or trying to be difficult, or protect the secrets of their success. It is most likely because rainmaking has become second nature to them, and it is almost impossible for them to point to what it is they do that can be taught and learnt.
In many ways they are what we would term as “unconsciously competent” – that is to say these skills have become second nature to them and they may not even recall how they learned or picked them up. They find performing these tasks very easy.
Over the years I’ve worked with and observed several of these rainmakers and can share some of the “secrets” from these observations to help you unlock your client relationship building potential.
1. Make time for Business Development (BD)
This is simple and yes it’s effective. I’ve known a very successful relationship builder in an accountancy firm who had a regular Tuesday 10-10:30am, BD focus, recurring appointment in their diary. This appointment never moved and so the momentum was never lost.
2. Know who you want to talk to most
This is more than just an organisation you desire to have as a client. You can’t actually converse with Mr Microsoft or Mrs Apple. Understand the clients you want to work with of course, but beyond that know who the people within that organisation are that you need to build a relationship with. Do they have organisational power or influence? If not, find out who does.
3. Research the client’s market
Ever wondered why a successful rainmaker reads the morning paper or spends the early part of their day on business, news or social media sites? Well it’s simple – to understand their client’s world. They know that if they can talk to them about the things that are important to them, then they will build a good relationship with them.
4. Share things of interest
When I first started out, my first sales mentor used to photocopy stories of interest and post them to his clients, with a short hand written memo. It was something I copied, very quickly. It was amazing how quickly this built trust and meant that clients looked forward to your calls, rather than dreaded them. Of course now it is much easier to share stories electronically, but the key is, of course, to still make them relevant and helpful to your client.
5. Respect everyone you meet
Often rainmakers are seen as extroverts, those who are good with people. The truth is sometimes they are, but not always. Many great rainmakers are in fact introverts. One thing they do understand, though, is to be courteous and polite to everyone they meet, regardless of their status within an organisation. They tend to take an interest in people and ask them questions. Simple stuff but very effective.
6. Strive to make your client successful
I remember chatting to a rainmaker many years ago who said to me: “I’ve never understood why you’d want to work for anyone who isn’t successful, be that organisationally or individually. I mean if they aren’t, and you can’t help them become successful, then what’s the point?” This in-built desire to help their clients was what made this individual so successful.
7. Make time for BD
Okay I’m repeating myself BUT it is really important. If you don’t set aside time to do it, then it won’t happen.
8. Be engaging and have fun
Listen to a client’s comments at the end of the meeting. With a great rainmaker they are usually along the lines of: “Hey that was fun, I actually learnt some useful things today”. So yes, having fun in a meeting is important, but the most important part is to have provided value to the person you have met, in the time you have spent with them.
9. Ask open and engaging questions
Ones that build and develop trust. This is a really important topic and skill to develop. We will look at this in depth and give some practical advice for you in our next article in LawTalk.
So in a nutshell, it’s about putting your plans in place, setting aside the time to execute them and then providing value in the time you spend with your client, which means you’ll need to think and plan for every meeting.
Ben Paul is Director New Zealand for The Business of Trust. Ben has over 17 years’ experience in both New Zealand and the UK in business development and as a coach/facilitator. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.